“We started implementing our farm to school initiative a little over three years ago,” Lauren Couchois with the Lee County Food Service said.
October is National Farm to School Month and Lee County schools are very active in this program. So we wanted to know what the benefits of the initiative are.
There are two main aspects to the farm to school program: in-school gardens and purchasing produce from local growers.
“So we utilize Oakes Farms as one of our farmers, we utilize Lipman Farms and then we also work with a company called Florida Specialties,” Couchois said. Oakes Farms has eight total farms in South Florida. Their main office is located in Naples.
“We are really happy to be a partner and we are going into a lot of different school systems now throughout the state of Florida. It gives us a good consistent business,” Oakes Farms CEO Alfie Oakes said. “It’s really helping out local economy but beyond that the most important thing is that we are giving them really good fresh product that is much more healthy.”
Oakes said it’s important to teach kids where food comes from and the health benefits of fresh produce.
“Those are the things that are really important about educating - getting away from all the processed foods that are doing so much damage to everyone’s health,” Oakes said.
In-school gardens allow students to learn by doing. They also provide more fresh food options on their lunch trays.
“So they are part of the growing process, they are down to getting in the dirty and weeding, planting, harvesting,” Couchois said.
When students are involved in the process, they are more likely to eat what they’ve grown. There are 37 schools in Lee County that have school gardens.
“And when we talk about gardens it doesn’t have to be anything that produces fruits and vegetables, it can be a flower garden, it can be a Florida native garden, a butterfly garden, a relaxation garden,” Couchois said.
Parents are also encouraged to participate.
“Anything that they can do to donate their time and other efforts would be fantastic,” Couchois said.